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We Demand, 1971 / Appx 5,200 words / 2 images / 94 K total

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Parliament Hill, Aug 28, 1971: Charles Hill speaking; picketers drenched but determined
(Photos: Canadian Lesbian & Gay Archives, uncredited; possibly by Jearld Moldenhauer)
Parliament Hill demo, August 28, 1971: Charlie Hill
Parliament Hill demo, August 28, 1971: wet picketers

We Demand
The August 28th Gay Day Committee
The Body Politic, Issue 1, Nov / Dec 1971
Reprinted in Flaunting It!, 1982

On August 28, 1971, homosexual men and women rallied on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, in the first large-scale gay demonstration in Canada.

Despite pouring rain the assembled throng -- the Canadian Press wire service reported "close to 100"; The Body Politic said "about 200" -- stayed for 40 minutes, listening to speeches by Charlie Hill of Toronto Gay Action (organizers of the demo), George Hislop and Pat Murphy of the Community Homophile Association of Toronto, Pierre Masson of Montreal's Front de libération homosexuel, and US activist John Williams.

All were there in support of a brief prepared by Toronto Gay Action and submitted to the federal government on August 21. It was printed in full, along with pictures of the demo (not the same as the ones shown here), on four pages of the first issue of The Body Politic, where it was titled "We Demand". It was preceded there by the letter that had accompanied the brief -- with a note that "To date, no response has been forthcoming."

The origins of "We Demand"

In 1971, the modern gay liberation movement in Canada was less than two years old. Its growth had followed changes to the Criminal Code, effective August 26, 1969, that had "decriminalized" sexual acts in private between any two persons 21 years of age or older (see Notes, below). But, as this brief and the letter sent with it clarify, that change had hardly made homosexuals equal in law.

In the summer of 1971 various gay groups planned a protest to mark the anniversary of the 1969 Criminal Code amendments, and to demand true equality. The job of putting those demands in writing fell to two Toronto activists, Herbert Spiers and David Newcome.

Herb, originally from Columbus, Ohio, was a graduate student in philosophy at the University of Toronto. David worked in a bank. Both were member of Toronto Gay Action, and were soon to be founding collective members of The Body Politic. (Herb Spiers now lives in New York City. David Newcome died of AIDS on Feb 4, 1994.) Here's what Herb had to say about it, via e-mail, in June 1997:

"If I recall it was decided by TGA (Toronto Gay Action, of which I was the New York Times-reading "facilitator" read chair) that there should be a set of demands to go along with the first demonstration at Parliament. A committee of two was set-up, David Newcome and myself. I set about doing some basic research; it didn't take much since there wasn't much. We canvassed various people about what should be in our demands. I can't remember why there were ten as opposed to say 14 (except perhaps that a decalogue has a certain biblical ring to it).

"Then we set about drafting the demands. The system worked this way. I would dictate the demands while David would say 'slow down I can't write that fast' and I would reply 'if I stop now I'll forget what I'm going to say'. I was on a roll. I would say it took us several nights to get the first draft because there was some supporting documentation we had to sift through and consult (like laws on the books; regulations regarding the armed forces, etc.). We kept refining and refining until finally we were able to put it down in typescript.

"...we showed it to the Director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Union (I forget his name). [Herb later remembered a name: Borovoy. Alan Borovoy was then (and still is) General Counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. Contacted now, however, Borovoy does not recall the event.] We sent it to him and then had a meeting. This man was very kind in his comments. His first question was to ask the name of the lawyer who wrote it. He was greatly surprised that he was the first lawyer to see it. He said it was very professional and thorough and that he really couldn't think how to improve it.

"Then we spoke of the prospects for the demands becoming law and policy. As you can imagine, this was quite a different conversation. Prospects at that time: nil.

"The demands then went back to the [TGA] collective and they were printed nice and pretty and I think that a flyer was printed. I was quite excited to go to the demo because it was agreed that I would read the demands. An American making demands of Canadians. How cheeky. My lover at that time, who was very nervous of all my gay lib activities, decided to drive to Ottawa and then on to Boston to see friends. On the way to Ottawa our car flipped over and was totaled. We weren't injured at all. So I didn't get to the demo.

"I must say that writing the demands came very easily, partly because that sort of thing is my bent and also because they really wrote themselves because they were obvious and just."

The brief's ten demands addressed matters under federal jurisdiction. A later mainstay of the gay movement in Canada -- inclusion of "sexual orientation" as a prohibited ground of discrimination in human rights codes -- comes only at the end, in relation to the Canadian Bill of Rights. In fact, the term "sexual orientation" does not appear at all -- as neither do "lesbian" or "gay". Rather, it was "homosexual men and women" seeking respect for their "sexual preference" or, simply, their "sexuality" -- as citizens of Canada.


Both the brief and its preceding letter appear here as they did in the first issue of The Body Politic (complete with errors; any not marked "sic" are mine, not the authors'). Some paragraph breaks have been added; most items underlined in the original (typewritten) text have been made italic; and the demands themselves (also underlined in the original), are shown in bold.

Many sections of the Criminal Code are noted, by number, in the brief. Section numbers changed in a 1985 revision of the Code, as did the substance of many sections. Here are the most relevant sections as they stood, and were numbered, in 1971 (as cited in Alex Gigeroff: Sexual Deviations in the Criminal Law, University of Toronto Press, 1968; emphases shown are my own):

The report of the Royal Commission on Security (the MacKenzie Commission), cited in the brief, had been released in 1969.

For more on the historical context of the brief, and responses to it -- over a very long time -- see What we demanded; What we got. That document includes links to another offering much more detail, in stories from The Body Politic and Xtra from 1974 to 1997, and in a section on the current state of the Criminal Code.

Rick Bébout, June 1997

[Letter accompanying the brief]

Saturday August 21, 1971

Dear Sir:

In 1969 the Criminal Code was amended so as to make certain sexual acts between two consenting adults, in private, not illegal. This was widely misunderstood as "legalizing" homosexuality and thus putting homosexuals on an equal basis with other Canadians. In fact, this amendment was merely a recognition of the non- enforceable nature of the Criminal Code as it existed.

Consequently, its effects have done but little to alleviate the oppression of homosexual men and women in Canada. In our daily lives we are still confronted with discrimination, police harassment, exploitation, and pressures to conform which deny our sexuality.

That prejudice against homosexual people pervades society is, in no small way, attributable to practices of the Federal government. Therefore, we as homosexual citizens of Canada, present the following brief to our government as a means of redressing our grievances.

Through Toronto Gay Action as the co-ordinating agent, the following organizations put forth their names in support of this brief:

The Community Homophile Association of Toronto, Front du Liberation Homosexuel (Montreal), Gay Alliance Toward Equality (Vancouver), Guelph University Homophile Association, Toronto Gay Action, University of Western Ontario Homophile Association, University of Toronto Homophile Association, Vancouver Gay Activist Alliance (support in principle), Vancouver Gay Liberation Front, and Gay Sisters (Vancouver), Waterloo University's [sic; Universities'] Gay Liberation Movement, and York University Homophile Association.

On Saturday afternoon, August 28, 1971, homosexual men and women and their supporters will rally in front of Parliament Hill in support of this brief. This action will be the first such public demonstration of its kind in Canada. Moreover, it will be the opening of a continuing public campaign until the just and reasonable reforms in the enclosed brief are achieved, and until the day when homosexual men and women are as free and equal as our heterosexual brothers and sisters.

In a democratic society, if one minority is denied freedom, all citizens are oppressed. Finally, in good faith, we are awaiting your response.

Brian Waite and Cheri DeNovo,
for the August 28th Gay Day Committee,
201 Queen Street East,
Toronto 227, Ontario.


1. The removal of the nebulous terms "gross indecency" and "indecent act" from the Criminal Code and their replacement by a specific listing of offences, and the equalization of penalties for all remaining homosexual and heterosexual acts; and defining "in private" in the Criminal Code to mean "a condition of privacy."

The terms "gross indecency" and "indecent act" in the Criminal Code remain largely undefined, thus leaving the offensiveness and degree of offensiveness of many sexual acts open to interpretation by enforcement officials according to their personal prejudices -- which by and large are anti- homosexual. Therefore a specific listing of public offences is crucial in that only in this way can personal bias be eradicated and the legal intent of the law be preserved.

In addition we recommend that the penalty for the specified public offences be summary in cases where sexuality, per se, is involved, and that only when other mitigating factors (e.g. false premise [sic; promise?], extreme youth, threats, etc.) are present, the offenses [sic] be indictable and, then only when a specific complaint has been brought by a private citizen.

In our experience with court cases, Sections 147 and 149 of the Criminal Code have been used to cover public homosexual acts, an offence which is punishable upon indictable conviction; similar public heterosexual acts have usually been dealt with under Section 158 of the Criminal Code, an offence which is punishable on summary conviction.

Moreover, indecent assault upon a female (Section 141) can result in a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment, while a person -- in this case, always a male -- convicted of indecent assault upon another male (Section 148) is liable to imprisonment for ten years. There is no reason for the continuation of this discrepancy in maximum penalties since the relevant factor here involved is assault, not the sex of the person assaulted.

Again in our experience, "in private" when applied to homosexual acts means strictly in the confines of one's home or apartment (cf. Section 149(a)(2) of the Criminal Code). For heterosexual acts this interpretation of "in Private" [sic] is less stringent, as the existence of "lovers- lanes" so well testifies.

A more realistic approach is to supplant "in private" with "a condition of privacy". In this way, persons engaged in sexual acts who have genuinely attempted to create a "condition of privacy" should not be arrested, but -- as now happens with most heterosexuals -- be told to "move along." (For further relevant information: cf. Gigeroff, Alex K.; Sexual Deviation in the Criminal Law, University of Toronto Press, Toronto 1968).

2. Removal of "gross indecency" and "buggery" as grounds for indictment as a "dangerous sexual offender" and for vagrancy.

A particularly grievous inequity arises from the fact that since persons convicted of homosexual acts are usually charged under Sections 147 and 149 of the Criminal Code, they are liable to be labeled as "dangerous sexual offenders" and sentenced to "preventive detention" for an indefinite period under Section 661 of the Criminal Code. Especially since "gross indecency" is undefined, we feel that the various types of sexual acts falling under these charges (Sections 147 and 149) are of such a nature as not to be considered as a basis for inclusion under Section 661.

Section 164 of the Criminal Code labels an individual as vagrant and subject to summary conviction if, inter alia, he or she has been convicted of an offence such as "gross indecency". Since, as noted above, "gross indecency" is a nebulously employed term, conviction under this provision is likewise dubious in terms of the legitimate applicability of Section 164.

Denying the right of an individual to frequent specific places (viz., school grounds, play grounds, public parks or bathing areas) on the basis of having been convicted of "gross indecency" is excessive especially when the specific offence for which the individual was convicted may have been merely an indiscretion and in no way a harmful act. Such individuals are prevented from subsequently participating in an area of public life. (Not even a bank robber is forever forbidden to deal with a bank!).

3. A uniform age of consent for all female and male homosexual and heterosexual acts.

Since the Federal Government of Canada does not recognize legal marriages between homosexual persons, the age of consent for their sexual contact, ipso facto, is twenty-one years of age. However, since heterosexual parties can be joined in a legally recognized marriage, their age of consent is dependent only upon the age at which they can legally enter a marriage contract. This disparity results in an obvious inequity supported by Federal Statute (cf. Section 149(a)(1) of the Criminal Code).

Further inequities result in that Sections 138, 143 and 144 of the Criminal Code specify various ages of consent for heterosexual acts between unmarried persons. If differences in age of consent are to be provided for non-married heterosexuals, the same should likewise apply for homosexuals, so as to preserve the intent of the law regardless of sexual preference.

In addition we believe that the age of consent (twenty-one) for engaging in sexual acts -- again, with particular reference to homosexuals -- is unrealistic and should thus be lowered for all the above reasons. This is further supported by the fact that a number of provinces have reduced the age of majority. The effect of this is that individuals under the age of twenty-one can enter into contractual agreements, vote and drink alcoholic beverages, but cannot exercise their sexual preferences due to Section 149(a)(1) of the Criminal Code.

It is blatantly inconsistent that an individual is recognized as being mature enough to decide for himself or herself such important questions as entering into contracts, voting and drinking, etc., yet is not deemed mature enough to determine his or her sexual preference -- no small part of one's life.

In noting this we are not suggesting what specific age of consent for sexual acts should be adopted, but rather that the principle of maturity be applied uniformly to all aspects of deciding individual prerogatives.

4. The Immigration Act be amended so as to omit all references to homosexuals and "homosexualism."

Denying immigration to Canada for any individual merely on the basis of his or her "homosexualism" is inconsistent, in principle, with Section 149(a)(1) of the Criminal Code. Since "homosexualism" is not, in itself, an illegal practice between consenting adults in private, the Immigration Act thus discriminated against a minority group -- a strange practice for a democratic country.

The clauses discriminating against homosexuals in the Immigration Act also contradicts [sic] the intent of Section 149(a)(1) which was to remove the government "from the bedrooms of the nation". The effect of these clauses is, strangely enough, to put the government back into the bedroom -- in this case, not only in Canada, but in other nations as well.

Despite the legal status of homosexual acts in the country of origin, the prospective immigrant may realize his or her homosexuality only after entry to Canada where, supposedly, homosexual acts between consenting adults in private is a non-issue.

The Immigration Act therefore blatantly denies entry, solely on the basis of sexuality, to potentially valuable individuals who could, in many ways, significantly contribute to Canadian society.

Finally, the existence of this type of discriminatory legislation deprecates the moral character of present homosexual Canadian citizens, many of whom have made and are making valuable contributions to Canadian society at all levels.

(For all the above: cf. paragraphs (e) and (f) Section 5 and Subsection (1) of Section 19 of the Immigration Act.)

5. The right of equal employment and promotion at all government levels for homosexuals.

While the intent of the Criminal Code amendment (Section 149(a)(1)[)] was to make private homosexual act a non-issue in Canada, the proposed implementation of Paragraph 100 of the Royal Commission on Security, does, in fact make ones homosexuality an issue in the promotion of incumbent and the recruitment of prospective civil servants. Again this practice subverts the intent of the law.

The "reasoning" of Paragraph 100 evidently relates to the homosexual's supposed suseptibility [sic] to coercion or blackmail arising from his or her wish to prevent disclosure of his or her homosexuality (past or present) to family, spouse, friends, employers, constituents, etc. The individual might suffer from such revelation due to the prejudice against homosexuals in most areas of our society.

However, with the great changes taking place in our social mores, individuals are less and less afraid to a [sic] admit their homosexuality unless a specific negative factor will result from such admission, e.g., dismissal or denial of promotion. Thus the recommendation of Paragraph 100 comes full circle, reinforcing the situation the Report is trying to prevent.

It is evident that if an individual freely admits his or her homosexuality and is not afraid of disclosure and engages solely in legal acts, that person is hardly susceptible to blackmail. One cannot profitably threaten to broadcast to others what is already known. The effect of Paragraph 100 is to force homosexuals into a furtive situation in which they might become susceptible to coercion. Thus Paragraph 100 again becomes self- defeating.

If "homosexuals are special targets for attention from foreign intelligence services" this is evidently due to the threat of dismissal from employment, a situation which could be greatly improved by a more open policy on the part of the government.

We suspect that in this report, despite the supposed magnitude of case histories, homosexuals were specifically noted simply because they represent a distinguishable minority divorced from the social existence of the writers of the Report.

While the authors were aware of the majority's potential for adultery, homosexuality appeared to them to be a lesser potential and therefore one that could be mentioned without indicting too large a portion of the population. The result is that homosexuals have been used as scapegoats, while the issue of each individual's ethical conduct has been ignored.

As stated in Paragraph 100, "each case must be judged in the light of all its circumstances" for all levels of government employment, regardless of sexuality, individuals should be accepted or rejected on their own merits, their personal integrity, their stability and their professional capabilities, and not barred from promotion solely on the ground of a minority status be it colour, race, creed, sex or sexuality.

(Paragraph 100 of the Report of the Royal Commission on Security reads:

The question of homosexuality is a contentious area, especially as social mores change. It is a fact, demonstrated by a large number of case histories, that homosexuals are special targets for attention from foreign intelligence services. What is more, there seems to us clear evidence that certain types of homosexuals are more readily compromised than non-deviate persons. However, we feel that each case must be judged in the light of all its circumstances, including such factors as the stability of the relationship, the recency of the incidents, the public or private character of the acts, the incidence of arrests or convictions, and the effect of any rehabilitative efforts. In general, we do not think that past homosexual acts or even current stable homosexual relationships should always be a bar to employment with the public service or even to low levels of clearance. We do feel however that, in the interest of the individuals themselves as well as in the interest of the state, homosexuals should not normally be granted clearance to higher levels, should not be recruited if there is a possibility that they may require such clearance in the course of their careers and should certainly not be posted to sensitive positions overseas.)

6. The Divorce Act be amended so as to omit sodomy and homosexual acts as grounds for divorce; moreover in divorce cases homosexuality, per se, should not preclude the equal right of child custody.

Whereas bestiality and rape are, in all cases, offences under the Criminal Code, homosexuality is not. Therefore linking sodomy and homosexual acts with bestiality and rape as grounds for divorce is to impute a criminal, unnatural and immoral nature to forms of sexuality which, in themselves, are none of the above.

We are in agreement with enlightened sociological opinion and legislation, such as exists in England and California, that the concept of "fault" should be removed from our divorce legislation. The interest of the state in marital breakdown should be in providing the necessary machinery to ensure that the interests of all concerned parties are protected.

Consistent with the above, child custody, when at issue, should be decided on the basis of the merits of each individual parent and what is in the best interest of the child or children. In this regard, the homosexuality of the parent [,] in itself, is not sufficient grounds for determining the adequacy of that parent, qua parent.

7. The right of homosexuals to serve in the Armed Forces, and therefore the removal of provisions for convicting service personnel of conduct and / or acts legal under the Criminal Code; further the rescinding of policy statements reflecting on the homosexual.

Given the fact that Section 149 (a) (1) of the Criminal Code makes homosexual acts between consenting adults, in private, legal, it seems anomalous that Note (c) of Queen's Regulations and Orders (103.25; "Scandalous Conduct by Officers") and Note (b) of 103.26 ("Cruel or Disgraceful Conduct") both suggest that these above sexual acts may be considered punishable offences in the military. Thus, this effectively contravenes Section 149 (a) (1) of the Criminal Code, and, thereby, the principle that military law should be subordinate to civil law.

Paragraph 6 of Canadian Forces Administrative Order 19-20 ("Sexual Deviation - Investigation, Medical Examination, and Disposal") reads: ["] Service policy does not allow retention of sexual deviates in the Forces." This is conjoined with Queen's Regulations and Orders 103.25 and 103.26 (see above) so as to specify the manner of discharging persons convicted of homosexual acts while in military service.

Again, the mere fact of one's sexuality should be no more a basis for determining the suitability of military personnel than it should be for civilian employees. We do not accept the argument that the military is exempt from Section 149 (a) (1) of the Criminal Code due to the supposed susceptibility of homosexuals to breeches [sic] of security through blackmail anymore than we accepted the reasoning of the Royal Commission on Security, Paragraph 100 (cf. the rationale for demand number five).

8. To know if it is a policy of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to identify homosexuals within any area of government service and then question them concerning their sexuality and the sexuality of others; and if this is the policy we demand its immediate cessation and destruction of all records so obtained.

While this demand stands by itself we offer in support the following:

The University of Toronto Homophile Association on January 13, 1971, wrote to the Office of the Solicitor General inquiring as to whether the Royal Canadian Mounted Police engages in identifying and questioning homosexuals in government positions. To date, no reply has been forthcoming.

Identifying and / or questioning indivisuals [sic] on the basis of their sexuality is both irrelevant and inconsistent with the spirit of Section 149 (a) (1) of the Criminal Code. Moreover, we view such a practice as an inherent breach of the CANADIAN BILL OF RIGHTS [sic upper case], Part 1, Section 1 (b): "The right of the individual to equality before the law and the protection of the law".

9. All legal rights for homosexuals which currently exist for heterosexuals.

Although numerous instances of the injustices and discrimination embodied by this demand could be cited, the following are indicative of the inequities with which homosexuals must contend.

(1) because homosexuals cannot legally marry, they face economic discrimination in that the benefits of filing joint income tax returns and conferring pensions rights are denied to them;

(2) likewise homosexuals are unable to partake of the benefits of public housing;

(3) they are brought up under an education system which either through commission or ommission [sic] fosters both a narrow and prejudicial view of homosexuality;

(4) again owing to the fact that homosexuals cannot enter into legally recognized marriages, they are not permitted to adopt children except under the most unusual circumstances. (Although we recognize that adoption is an area of provincial jurisdiction, we feel that this does not completely remove all responsibility from the federal government);

(5) too often in the private sector, once an individual's homosexuality has become know, he or she is discriminated against in employment, and exploited by unscrupulous landlords;

(6) in known places frequented by homosexuals or in places where they gather, both direct and subtle harassment by police officers is too often commonplace;

(7) since sexuality is not covered under the Canadian Bill of Rights, homosexuals are excluded from protections which are guaranteed to other minority groups such as those of race, religion, or national origin.

While the list could go on (for example, the condition of homosexuals in prisons) the point should be by now sufficiently clear that, as a group, homosexuals are "second class citizens" in a democratic society which purports to recognize only one class of citizenship based on equality.

10. All public officials and law enforcement agents to employ the full force of their office to bring about changes in the negative attitudes and de facto expressions of discrimination and prejudice against homosexuals.

In a democratic society, sexuality is no more a reason for discrimination than is race, color [sic], national origin, religion, or sex.

As a minority group, homosexuals are deserving, in terms of the democratic principal [sic] of majority rule and minority rights, of government protection from discrimination arising from social prijudices [sic] as are other minority groups.

Laws are effective not only due to their ability to be enforced but because they are consistent with the principles upon which the political system is founded. Thus bad laws which are derived not from a principle of harm or injury but from ignorance and / or prejudice are detrimental to a whole system of laws founded upon the basis of justice, fairness and equality.

In line with the above, the role of public officials must be twofold:

(1) to serve as legislators formulating the letter of the law, and

(2) to serve as representatives of the spirit of a system founded upon democratic principles. As such, holders of public office must transcend prejudicial attitudes (in this case against homosexuals) in favour of leading society to levels consistent with the principles of human rights.

We therefore call upon all government officials to publicly support an amendment to Part 1 Section 1 of the Canadian Bill of Rights so as to read:

"it is hereby recognized and declared that here in Canada there have existed and shall continue to exist without discrimination by reason of race, national origin, colour, religion, sex or sexuality, the following human rights and fundamental freedoms, namely. . . " [ellipses in original]

We also call upon government officials as a show of good faith, to enter immediately into a dialogue with the various Canadian homophile groups regarding all the aforementioned demands and to publicly respond by supporting the purpose of this brief.


[What we demanded; what we got]

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